On Super Tuesday & In Honor of the Late John Lewis, Durbin Calls on His Republican Colleagues to Join Senate Democrats and Protect the Right to Vote

WASHINGTON – On Super Tuesday, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today called on his Republican colleagues to support critical voting rights legislation that was introduced in the Senate last week.  The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would update and restore critical safeguards of the original Voting Rights Act.  Durbin began his floor speech by reflecting on Super Tuesday, when millions of Americans will vote in primaries in 16 states across the country.  Durbin also honored his friend and colleague, the late Congressman John Lewis, who committed his life to protecting the right to vote.

Durbin said, “It is a day for Americans from all walks of life to express their political opinion and vote for the candidate they deem best suited for the highest office in the land.  As Americans, our most fundamental right is the right to vote.  My dear friend and colleague, the late Congressman John Lewis, called voting, ‘the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.’”

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s damaging Shelby County decision in 2013—which crippled the federal government’s ability under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to prevent discriminatory changes to voting laws and procedures—states across the country have unleashed a torrent of voter suppression schemes that have systematically disenfranchised tens of thousands of American voters.  The Brennan Center for Justice found in a recent report that, “The racial turnout gap—or the difference in the turnout rate between white and nonwhite voters—… has consistently grown since 2012 and is growing most quickly in parts of the country that were previously covered under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which the Supreme Court suspended in its 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder.” The Supreme Court’s decision in Brnovich delivered yet another blow to the Voting Rights Act, by making it significantly harder forplaintiffs to win lawsuits under the landmark law against discriminatory voting laws or procedures.

“This year’s presidential election will be the first general election since a wave of restrictive voting laws were passed in the aftermath of the 2020 election… Voters in 27 states—more than half of our country—will face restrictions on their right to vote that they have never experienced before because of this Supreme Court’s decision.  Last year alone, state legislators in 14 states enacted 17 laws that made it harder for people—particularly people of color—to vote.  As members of Congress, we must defend our democracy from these coordinated attacks on the fundamental right we have as Americans,” Durbin said.

Durbin introduced the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act with U.S. Senator Reverand Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), along with U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Laphonza Butler (D-CA).  Durbin also announced that the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a full committee hearing on the ongoing need for the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act amidst continued voter suppression efforts in Republican-led states on Tuesday, March 12.

Durbin said, “Last Congress, we tried to bring this legislation [the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act] to the [Senate] floor for a debate and a vote.  But our Republican colleagues blocked it with a filibuster.  This bill [should] unite Senators across the aisle, not divide them.  In 2006, 98 Senators, Republicans and Democrats alike, voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act with no votes in opposition… At the time, Senator McConnell said, ‘This is a good piece of legislation, [the Voting Rights Act,] that has served an important purpose over many, many years.’  Yet today, Senate Republicans have no interest in [restoring] the Voting Rights Act to protect voters from the latest wave of suppression efforts.”

“Every year that goes by without passing this critical law leaves voters vulnerable, particularly voters of color.  That’s why I’m calling on my colleagues to join me in supporting the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.  Congress has the power to restore voting rights, and we should do it.  Because as John Lewis reminded us, ‘Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself,’” Durbin concluded.

Video of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s floor speech is available here for TV Stations.

The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is endorsed by hundreds of organizations, including the following leading civil rights organizations: Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), MALDEF, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, and Demos.

The full text of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act can be found here.

A section-by-section analysis of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act can be found here.